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GOP Congressional Committee Approves Bill To Block Marijuana Rescheduling, While Rejecting State Cannabis Protections Amendment



A key GOP-led House committee has approved a large-scale spending bill that would block the Justice Department from rescheduling marijuana, while also amending a longstanding rider protecting medical cannabis states from federal interference by adding new language to authorize enhanced penalties for sales near schools and parks. Members also rejected an amendment that would have extended those protections to all state and tribal cannabis programs, including those allowing recreational use and sales.

At a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday, the panel passed the legislation covering Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) with the hostile marijuana provisions attached.

The bill as approved in committee would block the Justice Department from using its funds to reschedule or deschedule marijuana. This comes amid an active rulemaking process to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as DOJ formally proposed earlier this year.

SEC. 623. None of the funds appropriated or other wise made available by this Act may be used to reschedule marijuana (as such term is defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) or to remove marijuana from the schedules established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812).

A Democratic-led amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking member of the committee, that would have struck the provision and a number of other unrelated sections from the bill was defeated in a vote of 20-30.

GOP senators have separately tried to block the administration from rescheduling cannabis as part of a standalone bill filed last September, but that proposal has not received a hearing or vote. Including such a ban in key annual spending legislation is a way for opponents to force the issue forward. It’s far from clear that the Democratic-controlled Senate would go along with proposal, however.

The legislation as approved by the panel on Tuesday still includes a longstanding rider to prevent DOJ from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana programs that has been part of federal law since 2014, but the committee added new language stipulating that the Justice Department can still enforce a section of U.S. code that calls for increased penalties for distributing cannabis within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, vocational school, college, playground or public housing unit.

SEC. 531. (a) None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

(b) Funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to enforce violations of 21 U.S.C. 860.

Near the end of the hearing, the panel also defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to prevent DOJ from using its funds to interfere in any state or tribal cannabis programs.

“This amendment prevents the federal government from imposing its antiquated cannabis regulations on states, and it’s time that the federal government keep up with the times and stop hindering progress,” Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said.

After multiple Republican members spoke out against the proposal, the committee defeated it in a voice vote. No roll call was requested.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), another Cannabis Caucus co-chair, was the only GOP lawmaker to speak in favor of the amendment.

“We should be empowering states to regulate the product how they see fit, and this amendment would help just do that,” he said. “The disparity between state and federal policies have created a loophole that has allowed illicit operators to thrive and jeopardize public safety. It’s time to close the loophole, make sure products are safe and out of the hands of youth.”

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), the ranking member on the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, also spoke in favor of the measure, arguing that it’s “about aligning law enforcement efforts between state and federal entities.”

“It makes little sense to have state and local law enforcement pursuing one set of policies and have federal law enforcement pursuing a different set of policies,” he said. It’s time to end the disconnect [by passing] an amendment that prioritizes the rights of the states who choose to implement laws that best reflect the needs of their citizens.”

But most of the speeches addressing the amendment, from Republican members, criticized the proposal. CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), for example, argued that it was “premature” given the administration’s push to reschedule cannabis that’s currently going through the rulemaking process.

What he declined to mention, however, is that he secured a separate provision in the CJS bill that would block the Justice Department from using its funds to reschedule or deschedule marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)—a vocal prohibitionist who has championed a longstanding rider to prevent Washington, D.C. from using its tax dollars to legalize cannabis sales—also opposed Lee’s proposal. He argued that it would tie the hands of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to go after illicit operators in legal territories.

As Lee pointed out in her closing remarks, however, the amendment is more narrowly focused on preventing federal enforcement against cannabis activities that comply with state laws, and so nothing would explicitly bar the Justice Department from working with state and local law enforcement to go after bad actors.

“What we’re saying in this amendment is that DOJ funds should be barred from prosecuting people who comply with their state, territorial or tribal cannabis laws. Period,” she said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) also rose in opposition to the measure because he said “the Department of Justice should never be put in a position where is required to enforce federal laws and regulation on a state-by-state basis.”

“But that’s exactly what is happening with this amendment, and we’ll put this practice into law,” he said. “This amendment flips the doctrine of federal preemption on its head.”

Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK) first questioned the germaneness of the amendment, asserting that it represents an authorizing action that’s inappropriate for an appropriations bill.

The congresswoman then said that “prohibiting the federal law enforcement officials from actually engaging with the states, I think, is dangerous,” arguing that it would impair the Justice Department’s ability to deal with issues she’s seeing in her state of Oklahoma, where there’s been cartel-related violence connected to illicit marijuana operators.

The amendment Lee offered has been pursued several times in recent sessions, with a House committee under Democratic control adopting it as part of the 2023 Fiscal Year CJS appropriations legislation, for example. It did not make it into the final package that was signed into law, however.

The CJS bill also keeps intact another longstanding rider preventing DOJ interference in state hemp research programs.

SEC. 530. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (‘‘Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research’’) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Meanwhile, the Appropriations Committee is also taking up a spending bill on Tuesday covering Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies that has report language attached addressing illegal cannabis operations on public lands.

“Marijuana on Public Lands.—The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California. These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites. The Committee directs the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to continue to cooperate with State, local, and Tribal governments on survey, reclamation, and prevention efforts to the maximum extent possible. Additionally, the Committee directs each agency to convene and develop a strategy with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to eliminate grow operations that are not sanctioned by state or Tribal authorities and provide a report to the Committee on its efforts and the estimated cost for reclamation not later than 180 days following the enactment of this Act.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The House Rules Committee last month rejected multiple marijuana-related amendments to a series of spending bills, including proposals to ban certain federal agencies from testing job applicants for cannabis and prevent border patrol agents from seizing marijuana from state-licensed businesses.

The Appropriations Committee separately passed another spending bill last month that was amended to remove provisions safeguarding banks that work with state-licensed cannabis businesses. Members also reattached a section blocking Washington, D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales that was omitted from the base bill.

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